Around the Globe, LGBT Progress in Catholic Education is Slow, But Happening

handsCatholic education is a foremost way by which the church influences the world, educating millions of students, Catholic and non-Catholic, globally. Given this impact, how church officials address LGBT issues matters significantly and is therefore, frequently, a source of contention. But when done well, Catholic education can do much good for LGBT youth and their peers. This Bondings 2.0 post highlights how the complexities are playing out in several countries.

Scotland

The Catholic Church in Scotland will begin training its teachers for gender and sexuality competency inclusive of LGBTI concerns, reported Pink NewsA church spokesperson said the church has a “zero tolerance approach” to end discrimination, continuing:

” ‘The Church is working with the Catholic Head Teacher association to ensure that all teachers have adequate knowledge, understanding, and training and feel confident in addressing all aspects of relationships education, including LGBTI matters, in an appropriate and sensitive way.’ “

This commitment comes as the whole nation of Scotland  focuses on inclusion in schools, led by the campaign Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) and endorsed by all major political parties. Sixteen years ago, legislators repealed Section 28 which had barred gay-positive education in schools. The repeal did, however, not address what material should be taught. TIE’s objective now, according to The Heraldis “calling for mandatory teaching of LGBTI issues in schools to end discrimination and bullying” to save lives and equalize all students.

Questions remain about how the church’s stated commitment will be concretely enacted, given negative church teachings on homosexuality, For instance, working only through Catholic organizations may limit engagement with actual LGBT people and their families. KaleidoScot noted:

“The ‘appropriate and sensitive’ way to deal with such matters would arguably be through engagement with the very people directly affected, and liaison with teaching unions and other non-Catholic organisations would surely inform the Church’s thinking. The statement also fails to give any commitment to the teaching of LGBTI matters in Catholic schools. Furthermore, in some respects, the Church spokesperson’s statement suggests that it fails to see the need for significant changes in the way its schools operate.”

It remains to be seen what the Scottish Catholic Church’s commitment to training teachers will mean; hopefully, it will involve liberating education rather then relying on past methods which have suppressed LGBT students and staff.

Australia

In Australia, politicians are debating the Safe Schools Program to assist LGBT students, and the discussion has emerged in Catholic circles.

Peter Norden, a professor at RMIT University and a former Jesuit priest, said failing to support LGBT youth may violate international law.  Norden  published an article in the Australian Journal of Human Rights saying church teaching about homosexuality can harm young students. According to The Age, he wrote :

” ‘In many ways, same-sex attracted students are being asked to remain voiceless and invisible in some Catholic schools. . .For students that are same-sex attracted, they can be treated like second class citizens.’ “

Australian Catholic schools, which educate a fifth of the country’s students, may violate the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, Norden said. This Convention guarantees free expression, protection from violence, and dignified education. But a 2006 study of Catholic school students by Norden found high rates of self-injury and suicide, calling into question whether church officials were attending to LGBT youth’s needs:

” ‘You would hope an organisation that values empathy, mercy and engagement might have cause to review their situation.”

LGBT organizations have expressed concerns with Catholic education which, as in the United States, has religious exemptions for how it operates. Micah Scott of the Minus 18, an LGBTI youth organization, told The Age:

” ‘Many topics, including sexual and gender diversity, are unspoken. It sends a message to already vulnerable young people that who they are is institutionally forbidden, and that they should be ashamed of their identity.’ “

Catholic officials have pushed back on these claims, including Ross Fox who directs the National Catholic Education Commission and Stephen Elder, chief executive of Catholic Education Melbourne, who said schools were already focusing on eliminating bullying and unsafe behaviors.

On the other hand, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s election document listed the Safe Schools Program as one of the top four issues about which Catholics should be concerned, two others being religious liberty and marriage. The document says the Program “introduces children and teens to the concept of ‘gender fluidity’ and includes activites such as role-playing being in a sexually active same-sex relationship.”

Intrachurch conflicts were apparent, too, during a panel at the National Catholic Education Commission Conference held in June, reported The Record. Panelists largely opposed a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, including Bishop Greg O’Kelly of Port Pirie who said the church should not campaign on the issue, but also that same-gender marriages have “submerged” the rights of children. But Carmel Nash, deputy chair of Catholic School Parents Australia, said though the church’s teachings should be respected, “many parents have probably, rightly or wrongly, moved on from the at view” and they should be respected having done so, too.

Canada

Alberta’s Catholic schools have been wracked by LGBT controversy for over a year. The Edmonton Catholic School Board ‘s consideration of a transgender policy led to one meeting become a “shouting match” last fall.  Additionally, the Board approved“just discrimination” in schools as a draft policy last December.

A new independent report questions whether the Board remains viable, noted the CBC. Donald Cummings, a consultant and the report’s author, described the Edmonton Boards governance challenges as “systemic, deep and resistant to change.” He said third-party mediation would be necessary to resolve problems. Alberta’s Education Minister, David Eggen, has intervened and assigned a deputy minister to oversee improvements by and greater accountability for the Board.

Catholic educators worldwide are increasingly being asked to grapple with LGBT inclusion and support, as more students come out and at younger ages, and more faculty and staff enter into same-gender relationships or marriages.

But one Canadian school in Toronto, Loretto College School, revealed a powerful way forward that helps entire communities. Jenna Tenn-Yuk, a spoken word artist, reported on Health and Wellness day at the all-girls high school. During  the day’s assembly, the school’s chaplain and six other staff affirmed LGBT students and championed gay-straight alliances. Tenn-Yuk wrote on her blog:

“Staff were standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students at the front of the school. . .I was deeply moved and quite emotional before I had to speak. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening right now. How would my life be different is this happened at my Catholic high school?’ . . .

“There was so much light and warmth in the room and it was an honour to be in that space. This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.”

That light and warmth should be what every student in Catholic education experiences, especially those who are marginalized like LGBT students. This post shows that while progress is, in many ways, being made, much work remains.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Around the Globe, LGBT Progress in Catholic Education is Slow, But Happening

  1. Kevin Welbes Godin July 22, 2016 / 8:00 am

    A very important omission in Bob’s article, is what Ontario, Canada has been doing for the last four years with educating Catholic teachers. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (union) partnered with Egale Canada (the national Human Rights organization for LGBTQ) for the last four years to thoroughly educate Catholic teachers. This has not only been a major success in the Catholic context of Ontario, but has also sent a significant global message to how Catholic education can work in solidarity with LGBTQ agencies and get the necessary work done for the sake and safety of students and staff.

  2. colormeanew July 24, 2016 / 8:00 pm

    So important. I was in catholic highschool here in the US from 2005-2009 and I would always scan books for anything about being gay, all i was left with was a mention of a man dying of aids and showing him support and comfort. I didn’t know yet the church had the term same sex attracted (ssa) which dominated any/all discussion of gay people. So there was also 2 pages on SSA that compared and contrasted normal healthy sexuality aka straightnesss to just having samesex thoughts/desires. I was devasted because it was the most obvious time to me, at that point in my life, that the church i was raised in and meant to be apart of, rejected me for simply being me.

    • Kevin Welbes Godin July 25, 2016 / 1:11 pm

      colormeanew, that is both sad and disappointing. Your high school experience is recent and yet, I’m not sure a whole lot has changed, in any pervasive way, in Catholic schools. I keep advocating among school librarians that inclusion of ssa books are healthy for everyone, and critical for those Catholic students who need to see themselves and their families while in the Catholic educational system.

  3. Kevin Welbes Godin July 25, 2016 / 1:19 pm

    With respect to Edmonton Catholic school board, it’s important to note that the Alberta Teachers’ Association, of which the Catholic teachers are represented, have done tremendous LGBTQ education with administrators and teachers. Patricia Grell, one ECDSB trustee is an amazing advocate for the LGBTQ students in that area.
    There is a brand new body of research, led by Catherine Taylor of the University of Manitoba and Winnipeg, entitled “Every Teacher” http://news-centre.uwinnipeg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/EveryTeacher_FinalReport_v12.pdf There is significant data on Catholic teachers and their experience of what is and can be done in Catholic schools.

  4. Mary Frances DeNisco August 2, 2016 / 7:16 pm

    As the Chaplain of Loretto College School, I would like to say a big THANK YOU for the shout out to our school’s Health & Wellness Day assembly. If WE, the Catholic Church, Catholic schools and Catholic educators are serious about our Safe Schools and Health and Wellness initiatives, if we are going to talk the talk when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, it would be a grave injustice to leave out the LGBTQ members of our school communities.

    At the end of that assembly, there was a long line, at my door, of students who wanted to start a GSA at our school. The room was packed at our first meeting. Teenagers standing in solidarity with their peers….Kids telling their peers, “I’ve got your back”….That told me that as Catholic educators we have not only come a long way, but we are doing an upstanding job of teaching young people to be Beatitude People! It was a very proud day for me and for my school community!

    When the school principal, guidance counsellors, Catholic youth workers and teachers sign the rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBTQ members of the school community, we are bringing to life the message in Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are NOT promoting a lifestyle; we ARE promoting Health & Wellness, Diversity & Inclusion. We are showing kids how simple acts of kindness can SAVE LIVES.

    To have Jenna Tenn-Yuk as the presenter was a bonus. A young woman herself, using spoken word as the language teenagers would understand, Jenna articulated how difficult it is for kids to self-identify under the best of circumstances – let alone when confused with sexual identify and ridden with the fears that often accompany that self-realization. Her honestly, her bravery, her message and its delivery brought BOTH the students and staff to their feet and to tears…

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